Pa. gubernatorial candidate Wolf fires campaign worker over copied passages

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Tom Wolf's campaign for governor acknowledged lifting passages from an industry report and including them in its campaign platform as rivals tried to leverage the incident to raise questions about his front-running candidacy.

A spokesman for the York businessman's campaign said they had fired the staffer responsible for the plagiarism in its issues platform, dubbed, "A Fresh Start."

He said the campaign was conducting an internal review to determine if there were other instances of unattributed borrowings in the text of the platform, or in any other campaign materials. The campaign declined to identify the terminated staffer.

The material in question involved fairly innocuous observations about the virtues of energy conservation.

In a statement, Mr. Wolf said, "I have directed the staff to make sure nothing like this ever happens again and have asked for a new process to be put in place to ensure it does not."

Mark Nicastre, a spokesman for the campaign said, "We collected great ideas from all different sources for the Fresh Start plan -- the public sector, the private sector and not-for-profits.

This plan specifically cites more than 20 references throughout the 46-page document to other studies and articles that served as some of the foundation to our plan.

"It was important to us to give credit where credit was due. The language that has been pointed out should never have appeared in the manner in which it did. We are putting processes in place to make sure this does not happen again. This was a mistake and we regret it."

The public contrition didn't satisfy all of his rivals.

A spokesman for the campaign of U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, which first publicized the incident Thursday, demanded that Mr. Wolf return a campaign contribution from an executive of Johnson Controls, the energy firm whose reports were the source of the language grafted into the campaign document.

"After admitting to plagiarism and blaming a junior employee for his mistake, Tom Wolf should return this campaign contribution and sever any ties his campaign has with Johnson Controls," said the Schwartz spokesman, Mark Bergman. "At times of crisis, leaders take responsibility and don't pass the blame to their employees. And yesterday, Tom Wolf failed the leadership test."

Treasurer Ron McCord's campaign also joined the fray, trying to use the plagiarism controversy to renew its criticism of the fact that Mr. Wolf had once served as campaign chairman for Charles Robertson, a former York mayor tried but acquitted of murder in 2002 for his role in a 1969 race riot.

Mr. Robertson, who was then a police officer, acknowledged shouting "white power" to a crowd, but denied involvement in the chain of events that led to a woman's shooting death.

"It appears that, in Tom Wolf's world, improper sourcing is something that gets you fired within hours, but being accused of murder and admitting you're a racist gets you a vigorous defense," Mark Nevins, the McCord spokesman, said in a statement. "To this day Tom Wolf has still never condemned Charles Robertson or apologized for doubling down on his support for the racist mayor."

Mr. Nicastre, the Wolf aide, bristled at the criticisms.

"It's seems Allyson Schwartz and Rob McCord have decided the only way for them to try to win is by attacking Tom," he said. "It's sad that Rob would stoop to this level -- it's politics as usual, and it's desperate."

Of the Schwartz call for Wolf's campaign to return a contribution from the energy firm executive, he added, "This attack is especially ridiculous because Tom has known [Johnson executive] Laura Wand for 20 years."

The new exchanges come after weeks in which Mr. Wolf surged to the front of the Democratic pack on the strength of his early television advertising.

Mr. Wolf entered the campaign as a relative unknown. But his decision to commit $10 million in personal funds to his candidacy allowed him to vault to the front of public polling of the race. Since then a once relatively placid race has taken on a sharper tone.

Ms. Schwartz also questioned the businessman's commitment to the Affordable Care Act, contending that he had been vague in his statements on the legislation.

Mr. Wolf, however, said that he was fully behind the law and its full implementation in Pennsylvania.

Katie McGinty, a former state secretary of environmental protection, is also seeking the Democratic nomination.


Politics editor James O'Toole: jotoole@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1562. First Published April 25, 2014 9:52 AM


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